Taking Stock: Intrigue From Two Derbys and an Oaks

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Desert Crown wins the Cazoo DerbyPA Images

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What an excellent weekend of European Classics, which featured a sprinkling of some intriguing “what ifs” to flavor what's to come in the months ahead.

On Friday, Aidan O'Brien won his 41st British Classic–yes, you read correctly–when Tuesday (Ire) (Galileo {Ire}–Lillie Langtry {Ire}, by Danehill Dancer {Ire}) short-headed the unlucky John Gosden-trained Emily Upjohn (GB) (Sea The Stars {Ire}) after an exhilarating face-off in the waning stages of the G1 Cazoo Oaks at Epsom. It was a familiar affair in more ways than one. The fillies are by champion half-brothers, the winner is a product of a long-established and potent cross, and she's a sister to Minding (Ire), who won the same race for O'Brien and the Coolmore partners in 2016. Moreover, only Gosden (three) and O'3Brien (six) have won the Oaks over the last nine years, and O'Brien, all told, has won the Oaks 10 times. It's easy enough to speculate the finish might have been reversed had Emily Upjohn not missed the break, but Tuesday, a June 3 foal who won the Oaks on her birthday, is a typical high-class Galileo, and they, O'Brien will tell you with certitude, rise to challenges, because they are as tough as nails and more generous than most, leaving everything on the racecourse.

On Saturday, Saeed Suhail's inexperienced Desert Crown (GB) (Nathaniel {Ire}–Desert Berry {GB}, by Green Desert) won the G1 Cazoo Derby In Memory of Lester Piggott with a devastating display of acceleration for his third win in as many starts, giving his Newsells Park-based Galileo sire his third individual Classic winner following the great Enable (GB) (Oaks) and Channel (G1 Prix de Diane). Like Tuesday, Desert Crown was bred on the Galileo/Danzig cross, and the colt, the race favorite, gave his trainer Sir Michael Stoute his sixth win in the Classic.

Desert Crown won by 2 1/2 lengths under an inspired ride by Richard Kingscote, and the margin could have been more had Kingscote not had the race in hand some ways from the wire–which he may not have, if third-place finisher Westover (GB) (Frankel {GB}) had a clear run at a crucial stage. A Juddmonte homebred, Westover was stopped twice as Desert Crown launched his move, but once clear, he finished fastest of all to miss second place in a photo, looking much like Juddmonte's unlucky Dancing Brave, who was given too much to do when a flying second to the Aga Khan's Shahrastani in 1986. Westover may not have won the race even without trouble, but Desert Crown would have been asked for more to prevail, that much is sure, and a future battle between the two will be as highly anticipated as one matching Emily Upjohn versus Tuesday, if that were to happen, though it may not if Tuesday is cut back exclusively to 10-furlong races for the future.

The only consolation for Juddmonte–not that the farm needs any, as the owner of Frankel (and Kingman {GB})–lies in the family of Desert Crown, whose second, third, and fourth dams were bred and developed by the farm.

That brings us to Sunday and the G1 Qatar Prix du Jockey Club, the French Derby equivalent. The Aga Khan's Vadeni (Fr) (Churchill {Ire}–Vaderana {Fr}, by Monsun {Ger}) won the race with a change of gears that was perhaps more impressive than Desert Crown's display in the Derby, and he was five lengths clear at the end with jockey Christophe Soumillon disdainfully gearing down well before the finish and smooching for the cameras while opponents toiled in his wake. One of them was Godolphin's Modern Games (Ire) (Dubawi {Ire}), who finished third and appeared not to stay the trip, though he had an unfavorable wide draw as well. Previously, Modern Games had won the G1 Poule d'Essai des Poulains–the French 2000 Guineas equivalent–and last year he took the Gl Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf.

Unlike the two Classics at Epsom that are over 12 furlongs, the Chantilly Classic is contested at 2100 meters, or slightly more than a mile and a quarter; therefore, there's always lingering doubt if the winner will stay 12 furlongs in a race like ParisLongchamp's G1 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, which fall weather can make even more demanding. Soumillon was asked about the Arc in a post-race interview for good reason: the Jockey Club was the farthest distance Vadeni had traversed to this point.

Though Vadeni's female family is stout, he is a first-crop Classic winner for Churchill, a fast son of Galileo at Coolmore. Unlike Galileo's son Nathaniel, who won the G1 King George VI and Queen Elizabeth S. at three over 12 furlongs, Churchill was a more precocious and speedier type, an outstanding champion at two and the champion European miler at three when he won both the G1 Qipco 2000 Guineas and the G1 Tattersalls Irish 2000 Guineas. He was beaten in each of his three attempts at 10 furlongs, a distance just beyond his scope.

Vadeni, the fifth Jockey Club winner for trainer Jean-Claude Rouget and the eighth for the Aga Khan, has now stayed 10 furlongs, and impressively so at that, which is why Soumillon's comments are intriguing when reporter Katherine Ford asked him in a video interview if Vadeni “could go a mile and a half”.

“Honestly, It's not easy to say,” Soumillon responded. “He looks in his physique to go for a mile or a mile and a quarter … I think we need to go step by step with him.” Then, unprompted, Soumillon dropped a bomb. “To be honest, I really like the filly Baiykara that won the Royaumont today. She looks to be very progressive as well. And, today, if I have to say at a mile and half who will be best in autumn, the filly will probably be there … hopefully they are not going to run together, so I will not have too difficult a choice.”

Baiykara (Fr), an Aga Khan hombred like Vadeni, is trained by Francis-Henri Graffard, and the G3 Prix de Royaumont over 12 furlongs was her first win in three starts. She won the race in great style by four lengths and is unequivocally bred to stay: her dam, Balankiyla (Fr), is by Montjeu (Ire), and her second dam, Balankiya (Ire), is by Darshaan (GB).

Her sire is the Aga Khan's Zarak (Fr), a Group 1 winner over 12 furlongs.

Zarak (Fr)

Baiykara is a 3-year-old first-crop daughter of Zarak, a son of Dubawi who stands at the Aga Khan's Haras de Bonneval in France for 25,000 Euros. Zarak's dam is the great Zarkava (Ire), a daughter of Zamindar who was undefeated in seven starts, winning the Arc, the Diane, the G1 Prix Vermeille, and the G1 Poule d'Essai des Pouliches–the 1000 Guineas equivalent–in 2008. Soumillon, the Aga Khan's retained rider, rode her in all of her starts.

Soumillon also rode Zarak in each of his 13 starts, including a second-place finish to the Rouget-trained Almanzor (Fr) in the Jockey Club. At four, Zarak finally found top-level success when winning the 12-furlong G1 Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud, but he wasn't in the same league as Almanzor as a racehorse.

At stud, it's a different story. Almanzor's first crop has yet to yield a European black-type winner; he does have a Listed winner in New Zealand who's Group 1 placed, as well as a Chad Brown-trained Listed winner in North America. Zarak, however, is represented by six black-type winners from his first crop, and aside from Baiykara, they include G2 Prix de Sandringham winner Purplepay, who also won Sunday, in the familiar silks of Americans Roy and Gretchen Jackson's Lael Stable.

Zarak has obviously made an auspicious start at stud, but Baiykara, in particular, can send it to another level if she progresses as Soumillon feels she can, and that's saying quite a bit.

Sid Fernando is president and CEO of Werk Thoroughbred Consultants, Inc., originator of the Werk Nick Rating and eNicks.

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